WASHINGTON — US President Barack Obama used his farewell address Tuesday night to defend his legacy and try to unite a divided country. In recounting his eight years in Washington, he cited the Iran nuclear deal as a central achievement of his administration, but omitted any mention of his efforts to reach Israeli-Palestinian peace.
Forgoing the tradition of delivering his final presidential address to the nation from the Oval Office, Obama spoke in Chicago, his adopted hometown where he met his wife and launched his political career.
With only ten days left till he leaves office and passes the baton of power to President-elect Donald Trump, Obama sought to corral his supporters and fellow Americans to remain optimistic about their ability to protect America’s democratic underpinnings.
The president repeatedly referred to what he considered his signature accomplishments of the previous eight years to press a message that the American people was capable of creating a better future for itself, even in challenging circumstances.
The way his administration conducted diplomacy — evidenced by the nuclear deal with Tehran — was one of the examples he used to relay that message.
“If I had told you that we would open up a new chapter with the Cuban people, shut down Iran’s nuclear weapons program without firing a shot, and take out the mastermind of 9/11 … if I had told you that we would win marriage equality, and secure the right to health insurance for another 20 million of our fellow citizens – you might have said our sights were set a little too high,” he said.
“But that’s what we did,” he added. “That’s what you did. You were the change.”
The speech made no reference to the president’s extensive efforts to achieve a comprehensive two-state peace deal between Israelis and Palestinians, a major priority of his foreign policy since he took office.
In his first term, Obama appointed former New York Sen. George Mitchell as a special envoy for Middle East peace to jumpstart negotiations, and in his second term allowed Secretary of State John Kerry to embark on a nine-month round of intensive negotiations intended to reach a final-status agreement. Both efforts failed.
The president’s farewell speech comes two weeks after the US allowed to pass a United Nations Security Council resolution that condemned Israeli settlements as illegal. The decision was met with fury by Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, with whom Obama has had a turbulent relationship.